By Elen Turner
As an outdoors-loving traveler with a soft spot for remote rivers and mountains, I wasn’t sure how having a child would change my travel style. But with a few sensible adjustments, I have managed to enjoy some of the world’s greatest eco-adventures in a family-friendly way, and know that it’s not just possible but a lot of fun. From dolphin watching to rhino spotting, both parents and kids alike will be amazed by these accessible adventures.
Whitewater Rafting in Costa Rica
I was terrified of the idea of whitewater rafting in Costa Rica until I arrived at the Rio Pacuare. Surrounded by lush jungle with a soundtrack of the gently rushing river, I realized this wasn’t just going to be a wet adrenaline rush but an immersion in some of Costa Rica’s most gorgeous riverine landscape.
The tiny Central American nation is renowned for its biodiversity, and by rafting along one of its rivers, you and your kids can be surrounded by it. Bounce over rapids, drift through canyons, dive off the raft and float on your back while listening to birdsong — both older kids and adults will find the experience magical. Trips can also be made on gentler rivers better suited to younger kids.
Costa Rica has a varied climate, from hot and tropical on the coasts to much cooler in the highlands, so you can find someplace to suit your preferences. As well as the excitement of high-adrenaline activities, you can opt for gentle jungle walks and chilled-out time at beaches within national parks, too.
Horseback Trekking in the Canadian Rockies
If there’s one creature that travelers in the Canadian backcountry worry about, it’s a bear. Not my then-8-year-old nephew, who was fixated on seeing one while horseback riding around Banff National Park. (Fortunately, the closest we actually got was a glimpse from the car.)
There is a chance of spotting bears — as well as deer, elk and coyotes — while horseback riding around Banff, but that’s not the main attraction. Horse treks allow you access to some places that you’d only get to otherwise on foot, yet don’t tire out the littlest legs. The grandeur of mountains capped with snow even in summer, lazy glaciers and rushing rivers, and bright turquoise lakes surrounded by upright pine and fir trees will impress travelers of all ages. Older kids will enjoy hikes on well-marked trails, while even road trips through Banff are a delight.
A Jungle Safari by Jeep in Nepal
I had been so preoccupied with the idea of spotting a flash of a tiger in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park that I hadn’t thought much about the more than 600 one-horned rhinoceros that live there. But once I spotted my first, all attention turned to them. Driving into a clearing in the forest, my open-air Jeep came face-to-face with nine, lazily munching on grass. Primal instincts scream “run!” but as long as you don’t turn your back on the rhino, there’s little to fear from the safety of a Jeep. Nepal is home to enormous mountains, so many visitors overlook the jungle national parks on the plains bordering India. But with rhinos, royal Bengal tigers, thin-snouted gharial crocodiles, elephants, and many kinds of deer and birds, Chitwan National Park is perhaps more appealing to kids than long treks in the Himalayas. Plus, Chitwan has run very successful rhino conservation programs, so this is a great place for kids to learn about the practicalities of protecting wild animals.
Dolphin Watching in New Zealand
Dolphin-watching in northern New Zealand’s Bay of Islands was a doubly exciting adventure for my little family. My toddler was thrilled to see the dozens of dolphins that followed our boat, but so was my Nepalese husband. Hailing from a landlocked Asian country, his prior experience with dolphins was about as extensive as our 2-year-old’s.
We were offered the chance to swim with the gentle creatures after assurances that this opportunity is only offered when the dolphins aren’t stressed by the presence of the boat. As it was midwinter, despite the warm New Zealand sun and clear skies, we declined. A couple of hardier souls pulled on wetsuits and jumped in. Watching the lithe creatures from the boat and listening to the captain’s expert commentary was more than enough for us.
New Zealand offers many more opportunities to enjoy nature and is an ideal destination for families seeking adventures in the outdoors. It’s diverse but not too big, and easy to get around via domestic flights or scenic long-distance trains.
Elen Turner is a travel writer and editor who is lucky to call both New Zealand and Nepal home.
COSTA RICA FAMILY JOURNEY: FROM RAINFOREST TO COAST
National Geographic Family Journeys with G Adventures
Blanketed in pristine rainforest and brimming with curious-looking creatures, Costa Rica is the ultimate family playground. Explore inland jungles and volcanic wonders, then head for the Gold Coast.
VACATION INCLUDES: Upgraded accommodations; breakfast daily; Chief Experience Officer throughout and local guides; naturalist-guided cloud forest night walk; canyon canopy tour in Rincón de la Vieja National Park; Rio Negro Hot Springs and volcanic mud bath visit; horseback riding and guided hike in Rincón de la Vieja National Park; Palo Verde National Park guided boat tour; all transport between destinations and included activities.
8 NIGHTS from $1999
Select travel dates 3/14/20 – 12/25/21
WONDERS OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES
Tauck Bridges – Family Travel
Stay inside Banff and Jasper national parks at celebrated mountain resorts – The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and The Fairmont Banff Springs – on this adventure in the Canadian Rockies!
VACATION INCLUDES: Deluxe accommodations; many meals; sightseeing and tours; gratuities for local guides; admission fees; airport transfers; service charges; taxes and porterage.
6 NIGHTS from $4490
Select travel dates 6/6/20 – 8/14/21
NEW ZEALAND FAMILY MULTI-ADVENTURE TOUR
Every moment indoors is a missed opportunity. You’re in New Zealand, after all. Isn’t there a waterfall to swim under? Or a coastal scene to admire? What about bungee jumping? Follow it all up with a glass of local wine.
VACATION INCLUDES: Deluxe accommodations; all meals; expertise and services of experienced Trip Leaders; snacks and beverages between meals; private guided tours; all gratuities at hotels and restaurants; use of fully equipped Backroads titanium bike plus helmet and accessories; trailercycles, carriers, and kid-sized helmets; park and other entry fees; baggage transfers and porterage.
7 NIGHTS from $5899
Select travel dates 12/18/20 – 12/28/20
Prices are per person in U.S. dollars, land only, based on double occupancy, subject to availability and change without notice and are not guaranteed until paid in full. Prices and amenities may vary by category and travel date. International airfare is additional. Additional fees, restrictions, terms, and conditions may apply.